The annual Dutch Haamstede Conference, held in Garderen, which draws some 160 pastors, evangelists and teachers has become a spiritual home for me and a highlight of each year. The conferences I occasionally visit in Scandinavia, Germany, North America and England are edifying and instructive, but there is just nothing to compare with the deep spirituality, warm fellowship, eager optimism and high academic standard found amongst the Dutch brethren. A particular joy this year was to see the large number of young pastors who hold to the doctrines of grace and the evangelistic responsibility placed on their shoulders.

     However, the conference started on a sad note with the announcement that Pastor P. den Butter, a true pillar of Christ’s church in the Netherlands, was seriously, perhaps terminally, ill and could not open the conference with his usual soul-stirring preaching. A worthy substitute was quickly found in C. G. Vreugdenhil who, taking Peter and Paul as his models, emphasised the duties of an all-round pastor in preaching the law lawfully and grace graciously and finding a true harmony between personal Christian experience, including witness, and the faith once delivered to the saints.

     After lunch, M.J. Kater followed with a historical review of the earlier scholarship and piety of Princeton Seminary, an institution founded to inform the mind and move the heart and combat dead orthodoxy and frosty rationalism,. Kater suggested that a Christian education fails when studies do not encourage Christian worship, fellowship and instruction in witness and catechising.

     Next on the agenda was a paper on discerning the Lord’s leading, given by P. de Vries, which thrilled my heart. This fine, gifted young man was enabled to open the windows and doors of heaven and reveal to us through the teaching of the Dutch Second Reformation (Nadere Reformatie) and the British Puritans, true experimental theology. A lover of William Cowper myself, I was thrilled to find a Dutch minister, quoting profusely from Cowper’s works and finding in them paths of true devotion. This was not a mere lecture, it was preaching at its very best. It was also good to hear a Presbyterian, leaving denominational barriers behind and quoting God’s saints in the various church communions.

     The Monday and Tuesday evening sessions were given over to a discourse on Christ’s priestly office, presented masterfully by K. ten Kloster. The Netherlands have been providentially spared the church-splitting controversies which have swept through Britain and North America recently concerning Grotian views of the Atonement, but several of the young ministers, avid readers of works in English, asked Pastor ten Kloster to depart from his topic a little and outline the orthodox reformed teaching on the Atonement. This was done in a humble, learned way to everyone’s benefit. It was refreshing for me to hear 17th and 18th British authors quoted in Dutch and, in particular, Thomas Boston came over in quite a new way. Ten Klosters went on to outline the self-offering nature of Christ, our High Priest, in representing and presenting His sheep in His spotless righteousness before God.

     The Tuesday and Wednesday sessions were led by A. Beens, a much respected and loved minister of the gospel from Katwijk where many British go on holiday. Beens’ topic was the calling of the Twelve and the Great Commission. Stressing that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, Beens showed how the Lord of Evangelism chose very ordinary people to show forth His glory and that the modern idea of evangelising through massive, expensive, nigh-commercial campaigns organised by top managers stands in stark contrast to Christ’s own simple but more effective methods. Beens pointed out that the choosing of the Twelve Disciples reflected the calling of the Twelve tribes of Israel who paved the way for the chosen, Messianic people of God in the New Israel of Christ’s Church.

     Pastor P. D. J. Buijs of Veenendaal closed the conference with a sermon on Habakuk 3:2 regarding the grace of God displayed where only wrath is deserved. It was a merciful and sobering end as we had been so built up in the faith during the previous three days that we were all in danger of thinking that we could now go out under our own steam and move mountains. Now we were encouraged to view ourselves as dark shadows of what we ought to be yet as those who were used of God to display the brightness of the Light of the World. The message put me to shame in other ways, too. So seldom have I heard a sermon on Habakuk that I could scarcely find the book in my Bible – and yet what a glorious gospel of hope and grace it provides!

     So often, there is much belly-aching, critical gossip and mere sermon-tasting at ministers’ conferences but the Haamstede Conference continues to be unique in its deepening of fellowship and heightening of trust in our Redeemer. As I was leaving the conference centre, I overheard one elderly brother saying to his friends, “Now I have something really worth looking forward to. The Sixteenth Haamstede Conference! I smiled happily and sent up a short prayer of thanksgiving. I thoroughly agreed with my brother.